Does DIY Baking Soda Deodorant Cause Skin Reactions? An Almost Poll

The other day Amanda posted a great comment. She suggested doing a poll to determine how many people get skin reactions from using DIY baking soda deodorant. Was it a majority or a minority of people who had problems? I've been curious to know the percentages myself.

But it's a bit of a toughie.

Two Sides

This blog gets scads of visitors to this post about DIY baking soda deodorant and why it causes skin reactions. Also, I've received many communications from people who have had a wide range of reactions to DIY baking soda deodorant. My position: every DIY baking soda deodorant recipe I've seen is not properly formulated and risks causing skin reactions.

In the other camp are the people who make and/or sell their own baking soda deodorant. All the folks I've had contact with maintain their deodorant is very well tolerated by both themselves and their customers, and that it is a rare occurance if anyone experiences a skin reaction.

What Do The Facts Say?

The fact that sodium bicarbonate is an excellent deodorizer is well documented. In fact, baking soda is great for a slew of things. Unfortunately, the facts also say baking soda is a skin irritant. The MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) lists the following symptoms with prolonged exposure to the skin:
  • rash
  • itching
  • redness/miscoloration

However. This doesn't necessarily make baking soda impossible to work with.

What if one added skin-soothing ingredients to counteract baking soda's inherent abrasiveness and non-skin-friendly pH? Perhaps the perfect combination could be achieved to create the perfect deodorant  – one with all-day protection that was also well tolerated.

Being Unbiased in a Biased Atmosphere

Considering Amanda's suggestion, I kept coming back to the same question – How to do a neutral and unbiased poll?

Placing a poll on this blog would undoubtedly be biased one way, and placing a poll on a baking-soda-deodorant-proponent's blog would be biased the opposite way.

And then, quite by chance, a solution presented itself. It was tailored to the question at hand.

The Almost Poll

The other day, I happened across a recently written blog post by a maker and seller of baking soda deodorant. The post was about baking soda deodorant and how to deal with/prevent possible skin reactions. Ninety eight readers had left a comment at the time I came across it. 

I read every comment and tallied up the information.

Out of 98 comments

22 comments were either not related to the topic or the commenter indicated they did not use (or had ever tried) deodorant with baking soda.

That left 77 relevant comments.

Of these:
66 people wrote that they had experienced skin reactions (ranging from miscoloration and itching to burning sensation and oozing sores)
only 11 people wrote that they had not experienced any skin reactions

In percentages, that means:
85,7%  who tried and/or used baking soda deodorant experienced a skin reaction to it
14,3%  who tried and/or used baking soda deodorant experienced no skin reaction to it

That's what I would categorize as an overwhelming majority.

Two Additional Points:

  1. All of the comments came from people who have a positive view of this blogger and blog (the comments confirmed this). 
  2. The people commenting are therefore more than likely to also have a positive view of DIY baking soda deodorant (the comments confirmed this as well. Several comments were from people who had purchased and used this bloggers baking soda deodorant). 
Yet 85,7% of them experienced a skin reaction.

What baffled me even more: several of the commenters who had experienced skin reactions such as rash, itching and miscoloration wrote that they continued to use the deodorant (?!).

The Logic

I just can't help wondering about the logic here. The pieces just don't fit. If a person is looking to go natural and remove themselves from as many toxins and questionable chemicals as possible, why put a chemical that is a documented skin irritant directly onto the armpits every day?

Even more baffling: when a skin reaction does happen, why continue to use (and defend!) the product – arguing that the skin reaction is due to 'the body going through a necessary adjustment period' or 'detoxing'?

If a commercial deodorant caused comparable skin reactions, it would be taken off market immediately and the company would most likely be swamped with lawsuits.


With 85,7% users experiencing skin reactions, the product wouldn't have the slightest chance of even being approved.

It would never even make it to market.

More About Baking Soda Deodorant and Deodorant on this blog

Deodorant FAQ
No sweat - about baking soda deodorant
Why your DIY baking soda deodorant is causing a skin reaction
An exchange about baking soda deodorant
DIY deodorant without baking soda


robyn m said…
Hi. Amazing blog. I have a question about extracts. If i dissolved willow bark or aspen bark extract in a witch hazel extract from mountain rose herbs would i need to use a preservative in it since the witch hazel has alcohol?
LisaLise said…
Hey there Robyn - thanks so much for your kind words!
You asked about adding extracts to an existing witch hazel extract, but I'm afraid I need a bit more info before I can answer you. Are these extracts all alcohol-based? Do they have any water content at all?

In theory, on would think it possible to combine 2 already preserved ingredients and not need additional preservatives. However it's not quite that simple. A single product (for example an extract) may not need (and therefore won't have) a broad spectrum preservative, but as soon as ingredients are combined, all kinds of things can happen and the preservative needs to be inclusive of all ingredients - or broad spectrum. Therefore, as a general rule you will need to add a preservative.

Drop another comment if this doesn't answer your question.

On another note, I've got a post coming up on witch hazel and how it is made very soon that you may find interesting.
Dene said…
Hi Lise - this is the most fascinating of all your blog posts (of the ones I've seen!). I find it totally incomprehensible that people who suffer a skin reaction continue to use sodium bicarbonate on their skin. These are almost certainly precisely the same people who scream blue murder if a "chemical" causes them irritation. You just can't help some people.

On the subject of helping people, Robyn, if the ethanol content is greater than 10% in your final product, you may well not need to add any other preservative. However, as for ALL cosmetic products, the product should be subjected to a microbial challenge test for confirmation that it is adequately preserved. This is a leagol requirement in the EU since the 11th July, under the Cosmetics Regulation.
LisaLise said…
Thank you Dene - and thanks for answering Robyn! :)
Riana said…
I love your blog and look forward to my e-mail every day!

I have to say, I am one of the lucky "few" who don't experience problems with baking soda. I've been using it for more than a year now, and for me it works better than any store-bought deodorant :-) I honestly can't say what the baking soda percentage in my concoction is, I just judge it by eye and add arrowroot until it seems the right thickness.

Next up I want to try adding Bentonite clay to the mixture, as well as some shea butter. I'm just hoping it won't stain my clothes... lol
LisaLise said…
HI Riana -Thank you so much! Your kind words will have me running around with a big grin on my face all day!

I'm pleased to hear you haven't experienced a skin reaction. Please do be aware though, that some people can use baking soda deodorant for a very long time before a reaction appears. I think it's a great idea to add bentonite clay to the mixture. Shea is good for the skin as well. If you get your proportions right, I'm pretty sure your clothes will be stain free. Best of luck with it!
amanda said…
Haha! I inspired a blog post!

I haven't personally had problems with my mixture either once I got it tweaked (although I only have a tablespoon or so in about a cup of finished product. It's nowhere near 25 percent, but it's also a lot more than one percent). I've used it for about a year and a half now and have been very happy with it.

But that is one of the things I love about making more of my own personal care items- I get to play around with it and figure out what will work best for me!
LisaLise said…
HI Amanda - You most certainly did inspire a blog post! Your words really stayed with me for the longest time until I came across the post with all the comments.

It's nice to know you have a solution that works for you. Out of curiosity - have you considered trying to lower the amount of baking soda to 1%? You may find it is equally effective. Just a thought.

Which other personal care producst do you make for yourself?
amanda said…
I make:

*toothpaste (coconut oil and baking soda, and sometimes crushed calcium tablets if I remember)

*body moisturizer (coconut oil mainly, with various add-ins depending on the season. Sometimes it's almond oil, sometimes cocoa butter, and sometimes it's perfect just on its own)

*facial oil, both to cleanse and to moisturize (lately I've been loving rice bran oil)

*castile soap (I recently dipped a toe into the pool of soap-making from scratch, mainly because Dr Bronner's is so expensive. I can make a one gallon batch of castile soap for less than one quart would cost commercially. I use this for body wash, sometimes shampoo, dishes, and various cleaning jobs)

*vinegar and baking soda (alone or in combination, for a ton of household cleaning projects and as 'shampoo')

I started this entire process for a number of reasons. It's much less expensive for the most part, I love the fact that I have a library of stuff and can come up with something myself for a lot of situations (I made some wood polish from a 1:1 ratio of coconut oil and beeswax, just because I could! And it worked really well), and the older I get the more things tend to bug me (ranging from fragrance-induced headaches, to an previously unknown allergy to unrefined shea butter, of all things).

I love the fact that I can figure out what works for me and my skin and body, and then create something that will work.

Plus it feels very Little-House-on-the-Prairie, and I just love that.

I am about due to make another batch of deodorant, so I may try dragging out my kitchen scale and adjusting the baking soda to one percent just to see if it works! But the current percentage (whatever it actually is) has been no problem for me at all.

(And as far as the reaction-versus-nonreaction thing, I think that's why people need to experiment for themselves. If someone is breaking out and still using something that they know breaks them out, you can't fix that. But I can't believe that's what typically happens when people break out! Most people wouldn't be so ridiculous, I hope. But if they tweak their recipe and find something that actually works well for them, whether it's DIY baking soda, or a crystal, or arrowroot, or a purchased product, more power to them. I don't know why this particular topic seems to provoke flame wars. Thank you for keeping a calm tone in your posts!)

Sorry about the novel I just wrote!
LisaLise said…
HI Amanda - This is great stuff (and it's cool that you wrote 'a whole novel'). You are really going down new paths and learning new things at the same time. I think your soapmaking endeavours sound absolutely fascinating. I have been meaning to do a bit of digging around and writing about castile soap--- O-M-G-- I think you just inspired another blog post! :D
guil said…
thank goodness i found your blog.. im 8 months pregnant and found out that my natural crystal deodorant just wouldnt do the trick anymore so i switched to using baking soda (direct from the box!) a few months ago.. it worked perfectly OK, no rash no nothing but a few weeks ago i started getting a huge rash on both underarms coupled with super itchy as h*ll bumps and discolored pits... i thought it was some pregnancy symptom but now i realise its probably the baking soda. no idea what i can do at present since i need to get the stink under control :P but thanks again!!!!
LisaLise said…
Guil - I am so happy that you have discovered the source of the problem. I wish you a happy pregnancy :)
Anonymous said…
The issue for me is that you are clearly biased yourself as you 1) rash and 2)make a deodorant without baking soda which you profit from. The more people frightened of baking soda, the more likely they will be to purchase your product. A baking soda deodorant has literally changed my life. I have mildly rashed four times in five years. Your crusade against baking soda deodorant, while heart felt, I fear may keep some people from discovering a solution that works and, with a little common sense, can work for many people.
LisaLise said…
HI Anon -

I'm glad you have found a deodorant that works for you.

1) You mention that I rash. Maybe, but maybe not. I can't say because I have never tried using a baking soda deodorant. I'm not inclined to try it ether, because sodium bicarbonate is a skin irritant. The chemical make-up of it is such that it requires buffering to a lower pH before coming into direct prolonged contact with skin.

2) Although I do make and sell deodorant, I have created, tested and made a recipe for DIY deodorant without baking soda that I have posted on this blog for any and all to use- free of charge - no strings attached. If you check the How To page you will find many additional recipes I have created and freely share for all kinds of different personal care products as well.

You mention I am on a crusade against baking soda deodorant. This is incorrect. My 'crusade' is to educate about ingredients. At the time of writing this, over 25,000 people have visited this blog and/or contacted me in one way or another because of experiencing rash and other more serious skin reactions from using DIY baking soda deodorant. You read correctly: over twenty five thousand individuals.

In this same period of time, less than 70 people have commented or written me that they tolerate baking soda deodorant without issue. Even you write that you have experienced skin reactions from it - albeit mild. Count yourself lucky, Anon, because you truly are amongst a very small minority.

If you read a bit more on this blog, you will hopefully find that your comment about me trying to frighten people away from baking soda deodorant so they will buy mine is not only an unfair and unkind thing to say, but also incorrect.

Angela said…
Hi, thank you for this post. I wonder if you have come across anything like this. I recently tried a recipe for a homemade deodorant with baking soda. While I had no reaction on my armpits I developed a painful stinging rash on my face and upper chest. I have been trying to figure out if the reaction was caused by the deodorant, have you ever come across reports of a baking soda deodorant affecting the face or chest? - But not the armpits! My Dr advised that I must have tried something new to have this reaction - Having thought it through the only two new products I used were baking soda deodorant and mouthwash tablets which contain Sodium Bicarbonate - none of which came into direct contact where the reaction occurred! So I wonder if it is possible that they caused the reaction? What do you think? Thanks!
LisaLise said…
Hi Angela,

Thanks for sharing your experience. It does indeed sound odd, but I believe I have heard of a few similar experiences from others. Sometimes an allergic reaction will show up on another part of the body and seem unrelated, so it's really hard to say for sure. I imagine your best chance at finding out what the cause could be is to get tested for allergy to the suspected ingredients.